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The Chocolate Dandies: Blake and Sissle’s other Musical

On April 28 of this year, Baltimore born ragtime and jazz pianist and composer Eubie Blake and his partner Noble Sissles’ most famous work, Shuffle Along, will open on Broadway, nearly 100 years after its initial run. In 1921, Shuffle Along transformed Broadway and left a far reaching cultural and social legacy. But the pair also produced [...]

“White Enough to Pass”: Uncovering the story of John Wesley Gibson

“John Wesley Gibson represented himself to be not only the slave, but also the son of William Y. Day, of Taylor’s Mount, Maryland…” This is the opening statement of a slave narrative that tells the story of a man who chose freedom in a place and time that allowed slavery — Maryland in the 1850s. [...]

Lost City: Baltimore’s Vibrant Automobile Show Rooms

In early 1900s Baltimore, Mt. Royal Avenue looked quite different from the land originally developed in 1881 carved from portions of Oliver and Johns Streets. The advent of the automobile began to change the face of America and Baltimore. Beginning in 1899 automobile showrooms began to sprout up on Mt.Royal Avenue. Brands like Locomobile, Peerless, [...]

Thomas Poppleton’s Surveyor’s Map that Made Baltimore, 1822

Between 1776 and 1820 Baltimore grew like kudzu on a riverbank.  Geographically three settlements, the original town, Old town and Fell’s Point were legally merged into one and the official boundaries of the resulting BaltimoreCity (incorporated in 1797) were expanded to encompass 14.71 square miles by legislative fiat in 1817.  In that period the resident [...]

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte – The Woman I Have Come to Know

Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte was just another name to me when I arrived at MdHS in 2012 as a volunteer curatorial assistant.  Since that time I have come to know her intimately—not as the celebrity she was, but as a real-life woman. I first got to know Elizabeth (she never referred to herself as “Betsy”) [...]

Unearthing the Calverts: The Search for the State’s Seminal Documents

The story of how the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) acquired the papers of the state’s founding family is not well known. In fact it isn’t even a singular story. Simply preparing this piece about the collection unearthed a tale that highlights shaky provenance, the concept of authenticity in an archive, and the importance of institutional [...]

“Are We Satisfied?”: The Baltimore Plan for School Desegregation

(This is the second part of a two part series – The first part of the story was posted on May 15, 2014 and can be read here.) Baltimoreans, perhaps more than the residents of any other major American city, were poised to meet the challenge of school desegregation. The city’s public school system had already grappled [...]

Beatlemania in Baltimore

As Baltimore celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner and the successful defense of Fort McHenry from invading British forces, there’s another British invasion worth remembering. It occurred fifty years ago and was of an entirely different sort. On September 13, 1964, The Beatles invaded Baltimore for a one-day stop during their first American tour. John, Paul, George, [...]

Head Cases: The Baltimore Phrenological Society

On February 17, 1827 an assemblage of distinguished minds from Baltimore’s medical community gathered at the home of Dr. Richard Sprigg Steuart for the inaugural meeting of a new scientific and medical organization. Among those present were Dr. William Donaldson, Sprigg’s medical partner; Dr. H.H. Hayden, dentist and future founder of Baltimore College of Dental Surgery; [...]

Propaganda in the Free State: MdHS’s Collection of Poster Art

Before the advent of the internet, one of the simplest and most effective ways of getting the word out to people about a local festival, a concert, or a political message was by slapping a poster on a wall, storefront window, or telephone pole. Just recently, library staff completed an inventory of the over 1,300 [...]

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